Recommended Viewing: Antiquarian Bookshop, or “Where Sherlock Holmes meets Reading Rainbow”
You think I’m kidding? I’m not kidding. I would never joke about there being something that, by any stretch of the imagination, could be described as Sherlock Holmes meets Reading Rainbow. I would never do that to you.
Yeah, I fell off the face of the Internet again. I am (to my shame*) still slogging my way through Season 10 of Supernatural, and I really, really hope it picks up before the finale, because up until mid-Season 9 SPN was my favorite show, and now I have to force myself to watch it, and half the time I don’t even have much to say about it, because, with a few exceptions, what I’ve seen so far of this past season has just been so unutterably dull.
Anyway, this post is not about my disappointment with Supernatural. It is instead about my total lack of disappointment with a jdrama called Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’s Case Files (Biblia Koshodou no Jiken Techou), which is available for streaming over at Crunchyroll. Keep in mind that I’m still in the middle of watching the series, so what I say about it below does not take into account the last handful of episodes.
Antiquarian Bookshop is based on a series of novels by Mikami En, and it’s about a bookshop, and the people who work at the bookshop, and the solving of book-related mysteries. And that’s pretty much it. Each episode revolves around a specific book, and the final few moments of each episode offer abbreviated book summaries. Thus my drawing a connection to Reading Rainbow.
Everyone in this show is obsessed with books. The heroes love books. The villains love books. Even people who don’t particularly love books — like the male lead, who can’t read books due to a book-related trauma in his childhood (no, really!) — have lives that have been completely shaped by books.
Shinokawa Shioriko (played by Gouriki Ayame) is the show’s central amateur sleuth and bookshop proprietor, while Goura Daisuke (played by Akira) is her assistant, both at the bookshop and in the solving of book-related mysteries. In the great tradition of the best mystery stories (Sherlock Holmes! Nero Wolfe!), most of the episodes are shown from the assistant’s point of view, while Shinokawa herself does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to the actual detective work. Though of course it’s not actually actual detective work because she’s a bookstore owner and not a detective, but you get the idea.
So, draw number one: This is a mystery series that revolves around old books. I love old books, so this makes me happy. It’s a lot easier for me to relate to a story when the MacGuffin is a book, as opposed to something I find less interesting, like a stash of drugs or cash or whatever.
Draw number two: Antiquarian Bookshop really thinks about books, and encourages the reader to think about books, not just in terms of their content but in terms of what books are as physical objects. The paratext is as important as the text, here. I kind of think this series should be shown in Theory of the Novel/History of the Book classrooms.
Draw number three: The show’s lead sleuth is a woman! Yay! We don’t get a lot of that in mystery series which surround the awkward-genius personality types. (Except for Bones, I guess, but: meh. Yeah, I’m not much for Bones.)
Draw number four: (And this is probably the most important one for me.) All of the main team, but especially Shinokawa and Goura, are super nice and decent to one another. Shinokawa and Goura are both adorably awkward, though in different ways, and they spend a good chunk of their time together exchanging shy, reserved smiles. Shinokawa does deceive Goura a couple of times (using her superior sleuthing skills), but whenever she does, she apologizes, and it seems to be sincere, and not a BBC Sherlock-style extension of the manipulation. Actually, both of the leads are quick to offer the other thanks and/or apology when appropriate (or even when inappropriate; Shinokawa is excruciatingly polite), and the show doesn’t try to wring out any tension from them by having them jockey for position or compete or anything. Shinokawa’s technically the boss, but that’s just a fact and no one acts like it’s weird or exceptional. For the most part, they’re just sweet and considerate and mutually supportive and I love them. The show is hinting at a potential romantic connection, but it’s the slowest of slow burns, and I’ll honestly be surprised if they end up holding hands by episode 11 (though I’m rooting for them).
Are the mysteries especially good or gripping?
Well, no. But there’s something very pleasant about the calm, even pace at which they unfold.
And anyway, I came for the books and stayed for the charming leads.
It’s not a perfect show. All the women with recurring parts are traditionally beautiful and svelte, and there’s one character who seems be coded-maybe-gay, or maybe “metrosexual,” or maybe just “quirky,” but any way you slice it there’s an element of “isn’t this effeminate male stereotype just hilarious?” to his presentation. However, he seems to be a genuinely cool guy, and he does have good comic timing.
And Shinokawa herself is so delicate and ladylike, in her shawls and floor-length skirts and (occasionally) lacy umbrellas, that at times she seems more porcelain doll than woman.** This isn’t really a problem in and of itself (she’s an old-fashioned girl with old-fashioned clothes), but you could argue that she’s reinforcing/embracing some very specific codified female behavior (soft-spokenness, modesty, humility, etc.), and that may rub some the wrong way.
Be that as it may, I love this show so much I think I might cry. Then again, I just passed one of the major hurdles (translation: flaming hoops) on my way to getting the Big Important Academic Degree I’ve been working towards, so it’s possible I’m floating on endorphins or something.
* “Shame. Shame. Shame.” ::rings bell::
** Yes, if it existed and if I could afford it, I would totally buy a Shinokawa Shioriko doll.